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Woman fights UK wealth order after spending $21m at Harrods

Azerbaijan national becomes the first target of the British government's new initiative to seize ill-gotten money.

A woman from Azerbaijan who spent about $21m at luxury London department store Harrods over the course of a decade has become the first target of a British power to seize money from people suspected of getting their wealth through corruption.

A court has ordered Zamira Hajiyeva to explain where she got the money to also buy a $15m London home close to Harrods and a golf course outside the city.

Hajiyeva's husband, former International Bank of Azerbaijan chairman Jahangir Hajiyev, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in his home country in 2016 for fraud and embezzlement.

The case marks United Kingdom's first use of Unexplained Wealth Orders, introduced this year in a bid to curb London's status as a haven for ill-gotten gains.

The orders allow authorities to seize assets over $66,000 from people suspected of corruption or links to organised crime until the owners account for how they were acquired.

Battle for properties

Hajiyeva denies wrongdoing and is fighting to overturn the order and keep her properties.

During previous court hearings, she was identified only as Mrs. A, but a court order granting her anonymity was lifted on Wednesday.

Hajiyeva's lawyers said in a statement that the issuing of a wealth order "does not and should not be taken to imply any wrong-doing, whether on her part or that of her husband".

They said the order "is part of an investigative process, not a criminal procedure, and it does not involve the finding of any criminal offence".

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